One of the books that has most inspired me over the years is Playing Big by Tara Mohr.
The message of the book is something that resonates with me personally and is consistent with what I’ve often witnessed in our sector — women with amazing talents, ideas, and dreams who don’t see their own brilliance.
Mohr’s call to arms is for women to play big. To find out inner confidence, to take bolder action and stop undermining ourselves. Recently, I thought about how applicable this is to women gaining substantial ground in the fundraising industry. Perhaps it’s exactly what it will take to for us all to get ahead.
In the book, Mohr unpacks a lot of the things that keep us “playing small.” Things like listening to our inner critic, letting fear take over, relying too much on praise and criticism, and hiding.
That last one felt especially applicable to me. I can often come up with at least a dozen reasons as to why I shouldn’t do something.
When I wanted to run innovative fundraising campaigns or just try something different, I would often hear my inner critic whisper, “Who are you to do something like that? You can’t possibly be experienced enough or smart enough to pull that off.” That’s how mean my self-talk was for years.
But then one day I wondered, when would I actually reach “enough?”
It was a constantly moving target that I would never reach if it was up to my inner critic. That was when I realized that I could end up waiting my whole life and never doing anything substantial or interesting. I could forever be paralyzed by my insecurity and self-doubt.
Something had to give. I had to start doing things and stop hiding.
So much of the personal development work that I’ve done since then has been able learning to manage my inner critic and find my confidence. It’s helped me ask for raises, run incredible fundraising campaigns and even start a business.
Experiencing this challenge first hand and seeing so many of my female colleagues grappling with it is exactly why articles like the one from AFP in March are so dangerous to women’s advancement in the fundraising industry. They suggest that we should keep playing small and make space for men.
As women in fundraising, we need a better community and network to propel us into the impact and leadership that we’re all destined for.
I believe in your brilliance, your ability to have an incredible impact in the world. You deserve more support and resources to realize your potential. This is our time to come together to transform ourselves, our careers and the fundraising industry.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Are there ways that you play small in your career? What holds you back?
Sue Samaniego says
Absolutely loved “Playing Big”. I would have to agree that hiding is my go-to playing small move, but I can also be my own worst critic. As an introvert, I am all too often content to hide in the background and let others take the credit and the spotlight. While I don’t ever see me clamoring to be the center of attention, I do push myself to take credit and ensure that people know my role in successes more often now. If I don’t do that, I know I will never get the opportunity to grow into a stronger role and be recognized as someone who has impact that could be tapped for other organizations.
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
Hi Sue – Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment. I’m glad to hear that you’re also a fan of “Playing Big”! I’m also an introvert and that comes with its own unique challenges sometimes, as I’m sure you know 🙂 I’m so glad to hear that you’re finding ways to play big and grow your career. Keep up the awesome work!
Christopher J. Gillespie says
Ha ha ha. I work in fundraising for a mid-sized non-profit. Guess what? I’m the only male there. Every other person at the non-profit, from the receptionist to the other fundraising staff to the executive director… are women. There’s no discrimination against women in fundraising. The concept is, on its face, laughable. The entire non-profit sector is one big sisterhood as it is. Don’t you have anything REAL to complain about? The AFP was right – if we’re supposed to worry about diversity and inclusion in areas like STEM, doesn’t it go the other way too? Why is it ok to still look down on male nurses? Why is it wrong to say we should work to have more male elementary school teachers or fundraisers? Seriously, you’re living a pretty good life if this is all you have to complain about – the fact that women are dominant in fundraising and someone DARED to meekly call for some inclusion. Get off your high horse and step foot in the real world for once.
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
Chris – I appreciate this gem of a comment because it exactly illustrates the point that I make in this and other essays. As I stated in this essay, there are many ways in which women are not encouraged to be confident and play big as a result of socio-cultural messaging. We are told to be nice, not be too loud, not be too bold and so on. The result is many women staying complacent and not advancing their careers and lives in the ways that they truly desire. Your comment embodies the message that women should “stay small” in so many ways.
The fact that you say “there’s no discrimination against women in fundraising” shows the extent of your male privilege and lack of awareness about the adversity women face in the workplace. As I said in one of my other essays, reverse sexism (just like reverse racism) is not a thing. The concept is a contradiction in that it implies that women had/have power in the social context. The problem with this is the assumption that because women are the majority gender, they have power. Simply put, that is not true. Look at the pay gap, look at the percentage of men in leadership roles versus that of women. Looking at these real facts reveals that women are in fact not the ones with power. We still have a significant way to go on equality and over-turning toxic cultural narratives that tell women not to be too ambitious.
I think your Fundraising Sisterhood sign-up form isn’t working – when I hit subscribe nothing happens. But, I want in.
Anyway, all of this resonates with me so much. As you know, I’ve been struggling to find my footing in my current position (I’ll fill you in more during our call on Thursday). I want so badly to play with the big kids and now that I’m about to turn 35 in less than two months, it feels more crucial than ever that I get my life together and make some serious changes, both personally and professionally.
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
Hey Brianna – Thanks for letting me know about that. I got it fixed and you should be added to the list now 🙂 Looking forward to our call this week. Hang in there!
Thanks! I’m hanging by a thread right now. Actually, it’s not even a thread. What’s less than a thread?